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Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Flies of a Summer

Edmund Burke believed that reason alone is not sufficient to keep most men in line—this is because most men do not employ the rational faculty at all, and even those who employ it often do so without sufficient knowledge and experience. He notes that common sense and the wisdom of ancient custom (or traditions) are far more effective instruments for enabling people to come together and live with some kind of peace and harmony.

If men start altering their cultural institutions and their constitution whenever they wanted, then the present generations will lose their connection with the wisdom of the past generations—this is a recipe for tearing down a civilization. In Reflections on The Revolution in France, Burke warns the people of Britain that if, like the French, they get seduced by the ideologies which promise “liberty, equality, fraternity,” then the fire of revolution would consume Britain too as it had consumed France. He coins the phrase “flies of a summer,” to refer to a society that has developed an insatiable appetite for rapid transformations. Here’s an excerpt:

“By this unprincipled facility of changing the state as often and as much and in as many ways as there are floating fancies or fashions, the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken; no one generation could link with the other; men would become little better than the flies of a summer.”

The idea that rapid change might not be a good thing is something that the modern conservatives have learned from Burke. The conservatives realize that hasty political and cultural innovation can lead to improvement as well as destruction—therefore, they are prudent with changes. They take  a cautious approach to reform. The liberals, on the other hand, can be compared with what Burke has called the “flies of a summer”—they have no connection with the past. They want to overthrow all past traditions and force a new utopian future on the people.

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